The Lakers wrap up their 3 game road trip tonight, playing the Grizzlies in Memphis. The team is 0-2 on the trip so far, losing at Chicago and Milwaukee on back to back nights. Both games were poor defensive efforts, but that is not really new on the year. The Bulls carved up the Lakers in the half court and semi-transition while the Bucks simply turned on the jets and got easy basket after easy basket in the open court.
I was asked on twitter about the team’s specific failings in transition defense, since I was lamenting how poor the team has been in that area all year. The answers are mostly straight forward:
- Even though the Lakers run a two-guard front as part of their base offense, they often lack floor balance due to the want of their guards to penetrate to/below the foul line — especially out of the pick and roll.
- The lack of floor balance is exacerbated by the number wing post ups and isolations the team runs for Kobe and how often those actions turn into long jumpers.
- The Lakers guards — this is true of Russell, Clarkson, and Lou (but especially Russell) — often like to watch shots go up rather than starting to retreat into transition defense immediately after shots go up.
- The Lakers, in general, often crash the offensive glass with two or more players. The Lakers guards and wings — especially Kobe, Clarkson, and, to a lesser extent, Russell — crash the glass more than they should. This only further throws the team’s floor balance out of whack.
Add all this up and the team just doesn’t get back on defense very well. There are ways to fix this, of course. The guards could avoid crashing the glass. The team can say that 3 of the 4 players who aren’t taking the shot should not be looking to get offensive rebounds at all, and instead run back on defense once a shot is taken. A greater emphasis on taking fewer long jumpers — especially since the primary defensive player often closes out on the shooter and then starts to leak out in transition right away.
Either the coaches aren’t stressing these things or the players aren’t listening if they are stressed. Either way, the Lakers will continue to be poor in transition defense until they start to adjust some of these habits.
While it would be nice to say this shouldn’t be an issue tonight against the Grizz, that’s really not true. They aren’t known as a running team, but they do have players — Conley, Barnes, Lance Stephenson — who can get out in the open court and finish. If the Lakers continue to exhibit the traits they have all year, look for these guys to feast in early offense — particularly Barnes.
Even if the Lakers do find a way to turn this game into more of a halfcourt affair, they will not be off the hook. Memphis is without Marc Gasol and Tony Allen (whose cutting always gives the Lakers problems), but they will still try to pound the Lakers inside with Zach Randolph post-ups and by running Conley in the P&R with Z-Bo and Chris “Birdman” Andersen. These actions can turn into easy shots inside or kick outs to Barnes, Lance, and Vince Carter who can all hit from distance if given open looks. The Lakers’ rotations will need to be sharp.
Offensively, we’re at the point where I don’t expect much to change, but I am looking for small improvements. One thing to watch is how well Clarkson and Lou Williams run the offense when Russell is on the bench. For most of the year, both have been okay at initiating the team’s sets, but over the past month or so this has been less true. Rather than running the team’s elbow or chin series, Clarkson often calls for early P&R’s and if nothing develops he just pounds the ball as the clock winds down. Lou, meanwhile, will call more plays, but he too will look to create his own shot first rather than going through the team’s actions.
I’d like to see both guys call more sets if only to help get the other players involved more. Running P&R’s is all fine and good, but the Lakers’ O isn’t set up in a way that when that action breaks down there are easy outlets. So working their sets early and going to the P&R later might be the better approach.
Lastly, this is Kobe’s last game in Memphis and tonight also marks the point were we are under 25 games left in the year. I have little to add here that I haven’t said already about how this makes me feel and/or how it might affect the other players, but…man, it’s getting closer to the end and that stirs up the emotions. Here’s hoping he can have a good showing, though I’m sure he wishes he had one more chance to go at it with Tony Allen for old time’s sake.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.